David Prowse, the English weightlifting champion and actor best known for playing Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, died on Saturday according to representatives. He was 85.
From the moment he walked onto Princess Leia’s ship Tantive IV to John Williams‘s booming accompaniment, he cemented himself as a cinematic touchstone, delighting (and petrifying) audiences in his black helmet, armor and cape. Beneath it all stood the 6-foot 7-inch Prowse, lifting rebel scum by the neck. What an entrance.
Before joining George Lucas in a galaxy far, far away, Prowse was an established weightlifter who represented England at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 1962. He began working in film and television in the late 1960s, playing off his towering, bulky figure.
His first role was in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale in which he appears as Frankenstein’s monster in a short gag opposite David Niven. He played the famous undead creature again, albeit in a more straightforward fashion, in 1970’s The Horror of Frankenstein. In 1971, he appeared as Patrick Magee’s red briefs-wearing manservant Julien in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Three years later, he played an ape-like man-beast in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. This was the last of the Hammer Frankenstein films which means, yes, he did co-star with Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) before the pair were in Star Wars.
In 1975 he began appearing in British public service announcements as the Green Cross Man, a superhero figure who helped children learn about traffic safety. He made a repeat appearance in 2014.
Prowse’s voice was dubbed in the early Green Cross ads, a foreshadowing of what was to come in Star Wars. The notorious Sith Lord was, of course, voiced by James Earl Jones in the finished film, but one of the joys of YouTube is finding clips of Prowse speaking Vader’s lines, muffled by his costume.
According to lore, Prowse and George Lucas were not the best of pals in the ensuing years. While specifics are lost to a pre-Internet era, there are rumors that he leaked spoilers to fans at signings,